Panel Discussion on STEM: Expanding opportunities for women and girls with disabilities in education and employment, 23 February 2011

Panel Discussion on STEM: Expanding opportunities for women and girls with disabilities in education and employment, 23 February 2011 at the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 22 February to Friday, 4 March 2011

Globally, women make up three-fourths of persons with disabilities in low and middle income countries.  Between 65% and 70% of these women live in rural areas. Estimates of the percentage of children with disabilities not attending school is extremely variable, however, in general, children with disabilities are less likely to start school and have lower rates of staying and being promoted in school than their peers without disabilities. The correlation between low educational outcomes and having a disability is often stronger than the correlations between low education outcome and other characteristics such as gender, rural residence or poverty. Girls with disabilities have the lowest education participation rates in the world and knowledge of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is especially deficient. 

Women with disabilities have low employment rates, as compared with men with and without disabilities and women without disabilities. Women with disabilities often live in economic poverty; therefore, any discussion of gender and STEM must include women and girls with disabilities. Throughout the world, science and technology fields are dramatically expanding and this is true in developed countries, as well as in developing countries where these skills and knowledge could provide significant employment opportunities for girls and women with disabilities.  Additionally, because of the important role that knowledge of quantitative math skills and science plays in everyday life, skills in this field could have a dramatic impact on the daily lives and independence of girls and women with disabilities.  STEM education affords women and girls with disabilities the opportunity to pursue further education and future employment in these fields, as well as providing them with the skills to perform daily financial and household tasks, or work in microfinance programs.

General Assembly resolutions, most recently A/RES/65/186, as well as the Secretary-General’s report “Keeping the Promises: Realizing the MDGs for Persons with Disabilities towards 2015 and beyond” (A/65/173), highlight the importance of including women with disabilities and the gender perspective in mainstreaming disability in development as the missing link in the development agenda.

The omission of the disability perspective in mainstreaming women and the gender perspective in development efforts not only affects  women with disabilities themselves, but also directly impacts on the objectives of  development for all. The international community therefore called for priority attention and urgent action to mainstream disability, especially in the context of realization of the major internationally-agreed development goals, such as the MDGs.

The panel discussion is organized by DESA in close collaboration with civil society organizations and co-sponsored by the Global Partnership on Disability and Development, the Permanent Missions of Argentina, the Philippines and South Africa.

Akiko Ito, Chief of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities/DESA

Stephanie Ortoleva, Esq., Senior Human Rights Legal Advisor, BlueLaw International, LLP


  1. Harilyn Rousso, educator, psychotherapist, writer, filmmaker and advocate for disability rights
  2. Linda P. Thurston, Ph.D., Project Manager for Education and Careers in STEM for People with Disabilities, National Science Foundation
  3. Ivonne Mosquera, Program Manager for Information Systems, Dow Chemical Company
  4. Rangita de Alwis de Silva, Director, Global Human Rights Programme, Wellesley Centers for Women